Len and Ron Clemmer look down and shrug when they’re called part of a Charlotte institution, even if their surroundings overwhelmingly support the notion.Visitors who enter Clemmer School of Gymnastics in Pineville are greeted with a wall of pictures, plaques and mementos that commemorate decades upon decades of service and accomplishment by the brothers and their parents. Inside the gym, a trophy case celebrates the rewards of hard work and excellence shared with four generations of students. Outside the entrance, the stately sign says it all: “Clemmer since 1935.”And the tributes that pour in say even more as a 78-year era ends. The Clemmers are closing their doors on Nov. 25.“It’s a hard thing to do. We’ve both been teaching since around 12 or 13,” says Len, 68. “But a business approached us about the property, and they offered us more than we could imagine. There should be a life after gymnastics.”Ron, 66, says the decision was sudden. “We didn’t even know we were going to be doing this. We were still putting ads in the Observer until we were aggressively approached in the last three or four weeks by this business” - whose name is undisclosed because financing is still in progress.The thousands of students they’ve taught, ranging from age 4 to 17, have included “the Belk kids, the Iveys,” Len says. “The biggest thing we’ll miss will be the kids. That’s what it’s all about, the kids.”“We’ve been in the gym a long, long time,” Ron says. “People keep saying to us, ‘How come you guys never burned out?’ We know people a lot younger than us who gave up the ghost who quit and went into some other field. Some of the parents thought we were still in our 50s.”He was still demonstrating on the mats “until I was about 55. One of the gymnasts flipped off the parallel bars and I caught him. It gave me a double hernia, and then I gained weight and didn’t feel like doing it.” Len laughs as he talks about his litany of on-the-job injuries - a broken nose, a cracked cheekbone, a torn biceps, both thumbs broken - including one time while catching his brother during an ill-fated re-acquaintance with the uneven bars.Inside the gym, they look at a trophy case and the memories flood back: the personal triumphs and challenges, the patience, the repetition, all of the students who have moved on to college scholarships and further successes, including coaching. They understand the value of teaching because of what they learned from their mother and father. Leonard Clemmer Sr. and his wife, Anneliese, started their gymnastics and dance studio on Park Road in 1935. Leonard was an elite gymnast and athlete who became vice-chair of the AAU Olympic gymnastics committee; the annual honor for the best high school senior gymnast in North Carolina is the Leonard Clemmer Sr. Award. Anneliese, who died last December, was an accomplished ballet dancer. The family was instrumental in the development of AAU gymnastics.Ron and Len grew up doing gymnastics, performing all over Charlotte. “I was always motivated because I wanted to keep up with my older brother,” says Ron. “We were always first and second. At some meets, Dad wouldn’t let us compete. He wanted the other gymnasts to have an opportunity to place.”Eventually, they traveled all over the country. Ron was a member of the U.S. national team while a student at Temple, missing the 1972 Olympics by a fraction of a point. He was to compete as part of Team USA at the American Cup, but the United States boycotted that year because the games were to be in Cuba.Both served in the military - Len in Korea and Ron at West Point, where he taught gymnastics classes where he recalls a freshman named Mike Krzyzewski. Ron later performed in Las Vegas before he and his brother returned to the family business still run by their father, who died in 1995. Two years later they moved to their current location on Southern Loop Boulevard, not far from South Boulevard.Though their total of about 80 current students pales in comparison to the 300-400 they had before the recession, their unwavering love of the sport and commitment to the kids is reflected in the praise of their peers and grateful families.Ron and Len “are part of the history of men’s gymnastics and should never be forgotten for their contributions,” wrote Dusty Ritter of Las Vegas, a former U.S. men’s national team member who became the men’s Junior Olympic program manager for USA Gymnastics. “Our sport is built on the backs of may who worked tirelessly, for no pay at times, to make the world of men’s gymnastics what it is today. Their contribution cannot be overstated.”The brothers say some parents have come up to them in tears upon learning of the center’s closing. One Charlotte parent, Tim Wholey, says the Clemmers’ contribution to the Charlotte community “should not just fade into the future. It should be recognized and celebrated.“My son Kevin has been a part of Clemmers Gymnastics for the last five years. It was heartbreaking to know Kevin’s association with his coaches was coming to a close. I watched many children come to Clemmers over these past five years. Sometimes they came from programs that didn’t feel right to them.“They always knew their children were in good hands at Clemmers. Ron and Len taught my son respect, responsibility, perseverance, and the right way to go about training. Their primary goal was to make sure everyone was safe, had fun and learned the sport of gymnastics.”The brothers, currently working to redirect their students to other gymnastics centers, aren’t sure of their future plans. “We’ll stay in the area, though,” Ron says. “Charlotte has been very good to us. It has been and will always be a great place to be.”
Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2013
Clemmer gymnastic center to close
Reid Creager is a freelance writer for South Charlotte News. Have a story idea for Reid? Email him at email@example.com.
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